Borges, Yo!

1a. (deleted.)

1b. My bench is London. Hyde Park. Hyde Park is also the setting of something else, some other piece, called “Running London,” which I will write later. Or not. Most things are unwritten, how could it not be so? For every final something, there exist many unwritten drafts in the nothing.

2. My 2 characters soon to arrive on my park bench in my imagination’s London, are the “Borges” of this story’s title and the persona “Marshall Mathers”—which is a persona created by another persona “Eminem.” Both were created by the real Mr. Mathers. But the real Mathers no more appears in this story than does the real Jorge Luis Borges. To steal 2 fictional constructs from their authors and sit them side by side has got to be—at least—considered a cheap trick, a meaningless stunt, or some third pejorative thing. It isn’t. It’s a reasonable method to examine the parallel conceits of two very different artists—who could not be more different at a glance—who certainly never heard of each other, and could scarcely be less interested in this exercise, each other, or yo, even if they had done.

3. That bit about “Running London” above? A lie. The other story I intend to write will be called “Under London” and my disguising the title somewhat was an attempt to hold something back, to preserve some creative magma for a later attempt at something. Never do this, never hold anything back, not if you’re me anyway, and haven’t got much to work with right now, let alone in a neutrino-splitting cat-duplicating theoretical future. But where was I?

2. (cont.) In fact the conceit of putting these two brilliantly wrought personas of their respective creators together on a park bench ala Borges’ own emblematic work “Borges y Yo” is so apt, I’m sure someone has thought of it before. If anyone has acted on this thought, I and my enterprise here are fucked.

4. (deleted.)

5. (deleted.)

6a. A few other odds and ends. MS Word is making my life hell as it tries to help—deciding where my indents will be, thinking I am writing an outline because of the numbered paragraphs. I’m taking the numbered paragraph style from Delany, Samuel R. because I like it, it seems the right method to order these points I must make in order to communicate to the reader this episode to the best of my ability. It is, like any matter of style, a guess. When you encounter something funky in a story, you’ve got choices, one choice is to go with it—this is true of the writer as well as the reader.

6b. It is autumn, both in the world and in the false world of this episode I relate. The leaves in Hyde Park have turned, but not fallen. The sky is colorless. Borges in this story is old. Marshall Mathers in this story is young. Though the real Mathers is older now, I cannot imagine Eminem old, and though the world knows the young Borges, it’s the elderly, famoso figure I first met and hold forever in my mind; the man surprised to be famous: a poet, a former librarian, who in his sixties returns to the short story after decades of absence. He returns stronger, braver. Gone are the affectations of style, the showy absurdities in plot and theme. He simply tells it now: an old man named Borges sits on a park bench and, through the course of a conversation, discovers the young man sitting next to him is himself, many years earlier. Or perhaps he is the young Borges sitting next to an older self. He does not know which of him writes this tale and he tells us this, and then he is done.

7a. Today however, this autumn day, Borges is not in one of his stories, so he does not meet himself. Today he meets “Marshall Mathers”, who is not in Detroit, as he and his creator Marshall-who-is-also-Eminem would have expected. Eminem might be found in London, indeed any city in the world; he is famous everywhere, and rap is loved everywhere. Well, you might not find Eminem in Tehran. But you could certainly overhear his music anywhere—even Tehran—and no one should seriously doubt it.

7b. Eminem would be stunned to see “Marshall” outside Detroit, outside the clubs, the ugly streets, the shitty trailer parks of his childhood. He created “Marshall” to live in those core memories. Eminem takes on the world—the temptations and ridicule necessary to navigate the past—if one is to thrive in, not be crushed by, it. The world is an arena, the pop world, the world of fame—any world is an arena. An arena is where contests are held, and there is always one more contest. No matter how many you can win, there will always be one more, and nobody lasts forever. Eminem wants to keep “Marshall” safe from all that. “Marshall” is his innocence, and as long as he has “Marshall” he can’t completely lose his self.

8. Borges would like those concepts, and his ears would particularly prick up at the idea of the world as an arena. Or the world as any one thing, or anything as something else. A labyrinth, a rose, a tome in old Norse, they are each the world. The world itself is only that idea that is at once too great and to simple to hold in the mind by any method but metaphor. In one thing, everything. In everything, one thing.

9. “Borges” sits down at one end of the bench, and draws his wool lapels close. He wears a fine topcoat. The wool is Argentinean, but the workmanship is European; they do not exist without each other, and “Borges” contemplates that as a metaphor for his own career. He may use the thought sometime. Probably not, because there are better ones to devise.

10. “Marshall” sits down at the other end of the bench. He re-zips his coat to the top, folds his arms and pleasantly squeezes some of the air out of the puffy down. To Borges, Marshall —with his northern skin, his head of bleached hair poking forth from a white snowball of a coat—looks like an apparition, a phantasm of Wells perhaps, and as agreeably absurd. No. The ghost beside him evokes a mirth not often found in the works of those romanticists such as Wells or Verne whose chief literary passion lies in imagineering the future.

11. To Marshall, Borges looks like something out of another kind of fiction, an old movie on TNT maybe,—a guy like the guys who bankrolled Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. He wonders if the guy is rich. He has a cane. Rich people in movies carry canes. Then again, he is old. Maybe he needs the cane to walk. A cane is better than a walker. You see those old ladies, with their aluminum walkers, bus change clinking back and forth in the tray, and the walker’s legs taped up where the rubber footpads have cracked. Where’s the dignity in that? The old guy has dignity. How will I walk when I’m that age? Will I even get to that age? Will some kid see me and will I look like something in an old movie to him? That’s what I’ll be someday, an old man from an old movie—and that’s only if I’m lucky. Which I don’t expect to be. Marshall looks at Borges long and hard while he thinks this.

12. Borges looks back at Marshall, into the ice blue eyes,* surely the eyes of a poet of the Eddas would have been this blue, this clear. To be young again. But was I ever? What if I were this young man’s age today, would I find myself costumed as he is? If my world were not one of books, not one of my grandfather’s—the great general’s—history and legend. Not one of dusty southern twilights and Viennese snowfalls infinitely intermingling in memory. What if I were sneakers and televisions; internets and absent fathers? Would I then be Borges still? Would I then be me? Or is Borges something else? Something other than his memory. I have never believed that, yet I have always been a believer in the imagination, though a poor practitioner. If I, buy some alchemy – found myself compelled to trade places with this young man for one instant—would I, for that instant, retain semblance of myself? If I looked out at Borges from Nordic eyes, who would I see? A fellow—kinsman of sort—or a creature so alien as to defy comprehension?

13. And Marshall breaks the gaze in an instant, because he knows he and the old man are holding it a little. He knows in a flash they are thinking the same thought: who the fuck are you supposed to be anyway?

14. And they laugh. At first they laugh because of the awkwardness of the moment, and then they laugh at themselves for laughing and being embarrassed over nothing. And then they laugh because the other is laughing, and they laugh because it is truly singular to know two are thinking the same thought at the same time, and they look back at their own selves from the alien’s perspective.

15. As if in a mirror, they stop laughing and gulp and looking into the middle distance, still believing they are thinking the same thing, but how can either man know?

16. A few leaves fall as they sit there, contemplating that understanding—always stunning, no matter how often it is fleetingly grasped—that other people exist, independent of one’s self, going on and on, their own memories like fingers reaching out to their own pasts, their own dreams like fingers pulling their own futures near, all independent in one way, yet still capable of intersecting, winding around, turning, changing each other, like some (why not say it again, it is too late to make a pretense of originality now) like some labyrinth—but a living one; a labyrinth that builds itself.

17. “I should get back,” says Marshall, the first words spoken between the two men in an exchange, that after all, only lasted a moment, an exchange that, even as incidental encounters go, could fairly be argued never to have happened at all. Especially since neither man will permit himself to discuss it. Each man values his world of thoughts so highly that neither presumes to invade the world of the other. Instead, Marshall will want to find a place and a pen to write lyrics. Borges will want to find a place and a pen to write his own lines.

18. “I must go, as well.” says Borges.

19. The young man extends his hand and they shake, though the grip is different, a manner of handshake unknown to Borges, not at all difficult to learn, and much less formal somehow. “Good luck,” says Borges turned toward the fork in the path. And Marshall takes the other way, but not before saying, “Stay real.”
20. Borges contemplates the encounter, and every encounter he has had, and will have, living over and over again in the lines of his poems, the leaves of his books, the memories of a few friends, and (dare an old poet hope?) a few too-kind admirers.

21. Stay real. Interesting advice, he thinks with a smile.

22. I wonder … is it achievable?

23. (deleted.)

24. Hyde Park begins to dissolve behind our characters retreating backs. The men do not turn, or pause to notice this. Nothing is lost. Nothing that happened cannot be recreated at will. As a matter of fact, each time it is remembered it can be improved upon. The images crystallize, the epiphanies become more pronounced, and deeper. Neither man is finished living it, or will finish living it as long as the great world—call it rose, book, labyrinth, or any name you choose— keeps turning.


*It may be that Marshall has brown eyes and wears blue contact lenses at times.

(This story originally appeared in 419 Memoirs & Other Strange Stories (2011) by Michael Canfield, available in ebook form at the usual places.)

“The Common Knight”

In a crowded market, the excellent, newish online magazine Persistent Visions is publishing innovative work on a weekly basis, at no charge to you, the voracious reader of short stories. Last year I had the privilege of having my story “Mayastray” appear there.

But did you know that story has a companion piece? (No, you didn’t, because I’m telling you only now.) A similar premise but a much different outcome—because it involves a very different sort of person. It didn’t know I was writing companion pieces at the time, I tend to find certain stories are linked only after I’ve finished them. At 1500 words, here it is.

Man before the darkness

Photo credit: rolffimages

The Common Knight

Matt never paid attention to other people on the bus. Anyone normal rarely did, and certainly not at this time of the commute. Not at 7:20 PM. At this time of the commute, some seats remained open. But not so many that weirdos had the opportunity to interfere with tired commuters or single one out. Sometimes Matt worked as late as ten, and then it became him and the weirdos on the bus. But now the bus held a happy medium: not too crowded, and not empty enough to cause anyone to pay him too much attention. Matt was a weirdo magnet.

If he happened, some summer evening, to be sitting in a group of four or six in an outside café, every wandering street schizophrenic would zero in on him. He always got the seat on the plane next to the man so uncomfortable in his own skin that not only did he want to chat non-stop, he needed to chat non-stop. The saloon crank with the solutions to everything wrong with this country always took the stool next to Matt’s. Every woman he dated turned out jealous and crazy, so his relationships proved short and distant—though not especially painful.

Healthy people, sane people, ordinary people stayed away from Matt. He just didn’t know why. And this night, this particular 7:20 PM commute, it happened again. He could not hide.

Matt chose a seat near the front and opened the ereader app on his phone. However, he had made a mistake. He’d taken a seat reserved for wheelchair access, so, at the very next stop, he had to rise and make way for a passenger who needed it.

Somehow the bus had filled up more than he’d thought it had, leaving him with two choices. Stand in the relatively spacious area by the rear-door exit, or take a seat in the back row. The back row had room for four to sit across, but only one person sat there now: a woman with a weathered face and matted hair, wearing what looked like an entire set of drapes (perhaps bluish or purple, they were too filthy to tell) wrapped around herself. She occupied the middle of the long seat row, staring straight ahead.

Matt elected to stand by the rear-door exit. It did no good. The robed woman turned her head slightly. Once she noticed Matt she continued to look at him. It had happened again.

He, at first, ignored her, swiping quickly through the pages of the novel he was reading but without retaining any of the words.

The bus hit the expressway and immediately slowed to a crawl. Traffic still hadn’t cleared, even at this relatively late hour. That meant the commute—which, in the mornings, took about half an hour from the moment he left home around six, might well stretch to at least three times that long. The woman appeared ready to stare at him the whole way.

Matt scrolled back about ten percent of the way in his novel. It was volume seven of the series, and it didn’t hold his interest like the others—especially now with the disturbing gaze of the weirdo upon him.

The first couple volumes had been great, and he’d heard that the series picked up life again around book ten, which was written from notes left after Donald Barger, author of this planned twelve-volume epic, The Autumn Land, had died. The first volume, Rogue’s Glory had been good enough, but the second, Lady, Crown, and Godspawns was spectacular.

None of the subsequent volumes had lived up to its promise though, and reading volume seven, Storm’s Sorcery, felt like as much of a job as his job, actually. Lady, Crown, and Godspawns had introduced a subplot (lasting several hundred pages) concerning two characters, Indigo Knight and The Common Knight, a matched pair that had warred in different guises for millennia. Indigo Knight—ruler of a country of shape-shifters—had killed The Common Knight many times. The Common Knight was an everyman, Lowborn, but rising to some illusory degree of prominence in each new incarnation. No matter how many times The Common Knight died, he rose again. To die again.

Every time The Common Knight rose, Indigo Knight sent shape-shifters and spies to seek him out—in the taverns, in the streets, on the highways—to tempt him into some cause, some service. The Common Knight always demurred. And, at the hand of Indigo Knight, died again. Though Indigo Knight never relented, both characters had been all but dropped in the later volumes.

When he learned that a new writer was taking over the series, Matt posted his wish on several Autumn Land forums that The Common Knight and Indigo Knight story arc be revisited. Rarely did anyone chime in to take up his cause. (Fake fans found The Common Knight arrogant and egotistical—and, at the same time, passive and ineffectual. The conventional wisdom maintained that his creation was a horrible misstep, a horrible failure at manufacturing a sympathetic character—but they were wrong; the Common Knight merely knew his own intrinsic worth and, as for being passive—there was simply nothing of significance given to him to do.)

But anyway, most readers were more interested in War of the Eleven Elven Princelings against the Dwarves of Forest Unfathomed. Or the promised Return of the Empress of the Solstice. All that would happen, of course, no matter who took up the series. The balance of harmony would be restored in the end and the wicked undone. That expectation was sure to be fulfilled. The extant ten volumes were fecund with dropped subplots and dead ends. It infuriated Matt, as it did many fans. If only he could have a conclusion to Common and Indigo however, Matt, at least, would forgive all the rest.

He realized he’d been tapping through pages again mindlessly. He moved the scroll bar on the app back the same ten percent with a sigh. He needed a new series.

Ebooks were a godsend to him. He could indulge his guilty pleasure. None of his work friends or other ordinary associates had any idea how many fantasy and science fiction novels he devoured. For all anyone knew he was texting or facebooking right now, like everyone else.

Since ebooks, no more shocked looks on those mornings when, after bringing a girl home from a bar, the girl—who had come home with Matt, the smooth, successful, young executive with the important-sounding title, Investor Brand Director, at—awoke to find herself in a bedroom imprisoned by walls stacked high with paperbacks, each one the thickness of a Scrabble dictionary—so thick many sported full portraits of characters or scenes from the novels, not only on the front and back covers, but on their spines.

That would be the girl’s first clue. She would then investigate deeper. The Atari classic console in the corner. The Ikea desk with a two-monitor setup and double-rowed surge protector which rested, not on the floor, but on the desktop, sprouting cables like Medusa’s head sprouted vipers.

There would be no need for her to look further. She was done, and she would escape quickly. She would never even find out that, at, Investor Brand Directors pulled down less than forty-six grand a year. But it all started with the disturbing number of paperbacks. So the phone app had helped with that. He’d put his dead-tree books in storage.

Matt exited Storm’s Sorcery and browsed through the title list in the app for something else. He had books on there he’d forgotten that he owned, let alone hadn’t read, but he wanted something new anyway.

Somewhere, somewhere, in all creation, something new had to exist.

Before he could shop for it, for some alternative, the crazy lady in the back of the bus stood up. She clanked. She threw back her folds of drapery. The drapery was not common purple, of course. Indigo. Beneath it, hence the clanking, she wore a suit of armor. It shined. She drew her broadsword. Passengers dived for the floor. Many screamed. She held the sword in both hands and rushed him.

The weathered face, the matted hair. She hadn’t bathed, certainly in days, and possibly in weeks. Indigo Knight was relentless and focused, after all. She never rested in her travels from realm to realm until she sighted The Common Knight again.

The Common Knight could run and run, but he could never escape Indigo in her many guises. Indigo sent out spies and minions to draw him in: the wandering panhandler, the chatty seatmate on a plane, the bar crank. But the spies, the minions, always failed. The Common Knight avoided, demurred, forced Indigo Knight again and again, in world after world, to appear in the flesh.

She swung her broadsword now. Tomorrow, Matt imagined, there would be a huge headline on local news sites: Sword Killer! Nightmare Commute! Something. But, of course, he could not say for sure, and he wouldn’t be around to find out. Not this time. Maybe someday. Maybe someday the story would come to an actual end. If someone invented a way to write it. Indigo Knight’s blade swept the air. Matt did not resist.


Deserts of Fire

I’m proud to have my story “The Language of Monsters” in Douglas Lain‘s anthology Deserts of Fire: Speculative Fiction and the Modern War.img_0382


You can now read my story “Mayastray” for free at the very fine new speculative fiction magazine Persistent Visions — and view a beautiful illustration by Charlie Cody.


See the Elephant #2 is out now. It includes my short story “Summon Up the Blood”, as well as other stories by many fine authors. You can get it at places.

More stores:

MCP’s web store, (this benefits the publisher the most.)

The Shiny and the Sweet

This fake trailer is a funny SNL skit. A send-up of Marvel’s inability to make good use of its female characters in the films—so the premise here is that they make a formulaic “chick flick” instead.

But a deeper joke can be mined from the skit. Hollywood only makes two types of films anymore: GCI spectacles, such as the big franchise films—or of a kind of degraded Buddhism, a narcissistic/self-help-manual “journey” in which a protagonist learns to detach from his or her great desire and then is rewarded by having it fulfilled anyway.

There are other kinds of movies, of course, but these are the two main genres (which are sometimes mixed together as in animated features by Pixar and the others).

I wonder if young people even realize major studios used to put out big budget movies that were narratively and emotionally complex. Even messy, as life is messy. “Bonnie and Clyde” or “Lawrence of Arabia”, say. These were done with the incredibly out-of-fashion idea that you can entertain people without pandering to only their most superficial impulses, something explody (shiny), or something teh adorables (sweet).

There are few top directors who have carved out a way to still make personal films: Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Wes Anderson, but even they’ve been around awhile already. Now, when new directors have small films hit, like “Monsters” by Gareth Edwards, they get immediately sucked into the machine. First he made the terrible new Godzilla movie, next he’s doing a Star War and then Godzilla II. (Being terrible does not prohibit a movie getting a sequel anymore: “Prometheus” and “The Three Stooges” both have sequels in the works). Others, like Joe Swanberg, just stay the hell away.

Michelle McLaren, not an indie director, but television best working director (“Breaking Bad”, etc.) recently split from the Wonder Woman movie over “creative differences”, which could mean anything, but I hope it means she is looking for projects where she can display a personal vision. We’ll see.

Texas Governor Deploys State Guard To Stave Off Obama Takeover : It’s All Politics : NPR

Texas Governor Deploys State Guard To Stave Off Obama Takeover : It’s All Politics : NPR.

Todd Smith as quoted in the NPR piece: “Your letter pandering to idiots … has left me livid,” former State Rep. Todd Smith wrote Gov. Abbott. “I am horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do.”

America seems more and more absurd to me, full of actions that would seem hilarious if they were happening at a greater distance in time and space, like a medieval court putting a cow on trial, or Caligula making his horse a senator.

I don’t think this governor even remotely believes that Obama is planning to put Texas under martial law. But the depth of cynicism required to pander to the far right on this issue is devastating. Where the absurdity comes in, is in his lack of embarrassment. How could it be that he is not ashamed of himself?

Movies 2013 (addendum).

In my list of favorite movies from last year I meant to include a list of movies released theatrically in 2013 that I wanted to see but haven’t yet, and some other notes:

Fruitvale Station, The Hunt, Capital, The Silence, Casting by…, Tim’s Vermeer, The Unknown Known, Labor Day. Most are docs, which don’t usually show in theaters here so I’ll have to wait until I restart Netflix. (Except for the Penn Gillette movie which I might dowload illegally, he’s a libertarian, so what’s he gonna do, send his militia after me?) (That’s a joke by the way, pre-apologies to anyone offended).

Movies I really really hated, or found excessively boring or stupid: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, 2Guns, The East, The English Teacher, & (the first 20 minutes of) Gangster Squad.

Guilty displeasures (movies I wished I’d been moved by more):

“Nebraska” Never thought I’d say that about an Alexander Payne movie.

“12 Years a Slave” McQueen such a cold or distance filmmaker, I had the same reaction to his last movie about sex-addiction, but maybe he chooses subject that would be unbearable to experience with anymore emotional involvment?

“Much Ado About Nothing” I felt Denisof was miscast and his voice was too nasal. Amy Acker was wonderful, as was Nathon Fillion in the small, broadly comic role of Dogberry, but fuck…Fillion would have made a wonderful Benedick, and would have still kept it in the Whedon family of players.

My favorite movies of 2013.

(cross-posted from Facebook; spoilers, but if you’re curious, you can just skim for the titles.)

I saw many more new movies in 2014 than in recent years. I only missed two or so that I felt I wanted to see. Here’s my list, with some notes about them and why other flicks didn’t quite make it.

These are numbered, but they are all pretty much equal until it gets to the top two, which is listing technique I stole for Quentin Tarantino.

8. Blue Jasmin.

I almost jettisoned this Woody Allen movie because if it’s ridiculously unrealistic presentation of San Francisco, until I finally realized that that didn’t matter. San Francisco here is representing “Not Manhattan or the ritzy part of Long Island.” This movie has been compared to Streetcar and other works by Tennessee Williams, and that’s accurate. Cate Blanchette (who’s pretty much always good anyway) is power as this person who has spent her whole life construction a self, only to find forces out of her control making that persona un-viable. The last scene is pretty heartbreaking.

7. Mud.

This is, strangely, the only Matthew McConaughey movie on my list this year. Mainly because I didn’t see Dallas Buyer’s Club. I saw the trailer at least a dozen times and it’s the kind of trailer that hits every single story beat. You can even tell that McConaughey and Jared Leto will gets tons of well-deserved accolades. And it’s an important story. I’ll certainly rent it online at some point. “Mud” is a wonderful coming of age story. Or maybe two coming of age stories. That of a boy, and that of the title character, who is a man-boy. Though I like “Mud” better, it reminded me a bit of “Tree of Life”, it has a bit of the same mood (though none of that movie’s experimentation), but its same sort of contemplation of the complex emotional bonds everyone inevitably forms in life.

6. A Field In England

This is a trippy (literally) low-budget black and white four-character film set during the English Civil War. Like other Ben Wheatley films I’ve seen, it appears heavily influenced by low-budget British horror of the sixties, particularly, in the case, “The Witchfinder General”. It’s one of my favorite types of movies, a genre a like to refer to as “people talking.” Sounds uncinematic, but it isn’t, not if the performances, the writing, and the direction (I can’t bring myself to say the “mis-en-scéne” all work as well as they do here. (By the way, as shown below, my other favorite film genre is “people not talking”). There’s one scene (which begins with the horrifying cries of a man evidently being tortured offscreen) and that ends with long dolly shot, that’s as disturbing as anything in any movie I’m ever likely to recommend. I didn’t understand everything about the end of this movie, almost everything, but there is any action taken by a character right before credits roll that I didn’t get. Still, it’s the kind of weird, and visionary experience that, if it WASN’T a little inscrutable, would lose something. Sometimes it’s fun to be a little freaked out.

5. Blackfish

This is the Seaworld documentary. And as a work of film, I feel like it has implications far deeper even than its very important message about the inhuman and (at this point, at this level of civilization) is unforgivable. The implication I mean is that this movie also shows how corporations, this faceless, soulless killing machines, perfected to grow and grow and produce returns, and to do so with no other moral imperative, can manipulate and confuse their own employees, and their own customers, so that no one knows up from down and wrong from right anymore. If you’ve ever had that horrible feeling in your stomach, the feeling of “this is not right” but have had to swallow it or give up your paycheck. If you’ve caught yourself telling yourself “this must be okay, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it otherwise). Then this is the movie for you. You are not alone, and many times the things they are telling us, and the things that they say are not lies, really are lies. (Pro tip: After this watch “Dirty Wars” about the US’s current covert wars in 15 Muslim countries.)

4. The Heat.

I loves me some Melissa McCarthy. I loves me some casting by Allison Jones (Veep, Eastbound & Down, Arrested Development to name a few) AND I loves me some Sandra Bullock; but until this year she never made many movies in genres that appeal to me. I recommend “Speed” until the bus stops, then it is horrible, and also “While You Were Sleeping” which is adorable. Very funny movie. A standard sort of plot about two buddies who start out hating each other, but end up learning from each other, so it all depends on the chemistry (check) and the comedy (check). And that bobbie pin in the hair? That’s a very good character touch.

3. Drinking Buddies

This is directed by the mumblecore guy, Joe Swanberg (aren’t you impressed that I know what mumblecore is? I’ve never seen any of his other films so I don’t know, but this one has a cast of well-know actors like Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick, and also has good, if inexpensive, production values. About half an hour in I was on board, and I thought I was pretty sure where it was going. Half an hour later, still there. By then end, it has gone completely in a direction I could not have guessed. This is a really beautiful film about, well, buddies. It’s very very hard to do something truly simple. It takes a lot of confidence, a lot of vision, and a lot of artistic courage.

Speaking of which, here are my top two picks, both of which have that courage…

2. All Is Lost.

There is a particular scene in “Gravity” where George Clooney gets Bullock to start talking about her past. And this is the point in the film where is inserted one of the most tired and overused backstories in all of contemporary Hollywood cinema. It’s the back story given in over and over again in Hollywood movies, year after year, when the protagonist is either a single woman over thirty or so, or a young couple. (A different back story is given when the protagonist is a man. The lone male protagonist’s back story is, 9 times in 10, that his alcoholism caused him to become estranged with his adolescent daughter, whom he hasn’t seen in years. If it is more common than the dead child tragedy assigned to so many female protagonists, that is only because there are so many more movies with male heroes.)

During this scene between Clooney and Bullock, I actually has the fully-formed thought “how great would this movie be if they had cut all this”. Does Bullock’s character really need extra motivation to save her life. I liked Gravity a lot, and it might have made this list if I hadn’t seen the masterpiece All Is Lost, in which we are introduced to a character, alone in the universe. We don’t know his name, we don’t know what he does for a living, all we know is that he has people somewhere that he loves and wants to get back to. We can surmise what his class and worldly status is. after all it’s Robert Redford for fuck’s sake. It’s still a movie. But we watch him. He hardly speaks, there’s no one to talk to. He makes decisions, he make other decisions to deal with the outcomes of those decisions, and we watch, and we root for him. That’s about as pure as it gets. Not too many people saw it, which is too bad. It’s not going to be half so compelling on home video. And if they remade it with Sandra Bullock, it would still be great.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis.

Until a few years ago I wasn’t very much of a Coen Brothers fan. I liked their crime movies: Blood Simple and Fargo. I loved their sort-of crime movie turned cult sucess, The Big Lebowski. I thought Raising Arizona was an unfunny mess. I thought Barton Fink was pretentious shit, that Miller’s Crossing, Hudsucker Proxie, the one with Tom Hanks, and Oh, Brother Where Art Thou, and The Man Who Wasn’t There, were all boring as fuck. I thought the deus ex machina, not to mention the plot holes in No Country for Old Men, showed just plan ignorance of narrative skills, but I guess Cormac’s probably more to blame for that. Then something happened. I responded to the political satire of “Burn After Reading” I thought “A Serious Man” was one of the best movies about metaphysical ideas I’d ever seen, and I thought “True Great” was the best western since “Unforgiven”. So there. I feel compelled to put all that down because apparently, from what I’m seeing online, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is one of those kinds of works of art, like Joyce’s last two novels, that by it’s very existence just pisses some people off. Obviously, anyone claiming to like “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just a poseur/hipster/liar whose giving a pass to an inferior movie just because it’s a Coen Bros. movies. Snobs and cretins in other words, snobs because of their professed tastes, and cretins because they can’t think for themselves. But has it occurred to anyone that snobs, of all people, LOVE to tear down the work of sacred cows. A snob likes nothing more than to trash a new work by an established master. Makes them feel good. Then there’s the infuriating belief that if something doesn’t appeal to you, then it must be making fun of you. That after the screening everyone else retreats to a fancy wine bar somewhere and laughs and laughs about your philistine response to the work that was intended for no other purpose than to instigate your humiliation. These people couldn’t actually like this artsy-fartsy stuff. No. And if they are not doing if FOR themselves, the must be doing it AGAINST me. That’s, if you’ll forgive me, a little narcissistic, don’t you think?

So if you don’t like movies that induce those sorts of emotions, be warned, Inside Llewyn Davis.

Maybe I can best explain why I loved this movie by going first to its correllary, “Francis Ha”, which almost made my list and is on a similar familiar theme: the struggling New York artist. Francis is played by Greta Gerwig (who co-wote and produced the movie as well). Greta Gerwig who is one of the most adorable people in the currently known world. Llewyn Davis, on the other hand, is a bit of a dick. He’s hard to root for (if you can’t, or more likely, won’t, root for Greta Gerwig, then you’re the dick), although they do both exhibit some of the same unpleasant behavior. They impose themselves on others excessively; they seem to find themselves on the taking end rather that the giving end of most transactions, at least at the point in their lives that we encounter them: the struggling phase. Because in both movies there is a real sense that they are struggling, not only with making a living, but also with themselves. They are excessively self-involved. They turn down very generous offers that could help them in their careers. They do this by gut instinct, as if their brains hardly work at all. Ultimately, “Francis Ha” becomes an inspiring movie about a young woman finding her niche, and that makes a very good movie, when, as here, done right. Inside Llewyn Davis (the title is ironic, we go all the way from Greenwich Village, to Chicago, and then, by later implication, all the way round again, but the one place we will never go is inside Llewyn Davis). Throughout the movie, Davis sings beautiful songs, he demonstrates almost no love or kindness toward any other person, yet he’s extremely concern about a cat he accidentally lets escape a friend’s flat. The question is often raised against such people “how can such a sensitive artist” be such an asshole? Some people don’t like movies about unsympathetic characters (though I’ll argue that Llewyn isn’t such a character anyway, in a moment), but if you’ve ever met any artists or actors or musicians or painters, you have probably met some assholes among them. Or, if you won’t call them assholes, then flakes, or drunks, or at very least crybabies. You’ve probably met some people who are truly inspiring in one minute and big pain in the butt the next.

I’m suggesting that these are all occupational hazards of creative people, and that theses traits are not to be romanticized, or excused, but lack they hazards of any other occupation, they ought to be examined. Hence a legitimate subject for movies.

Llewyn has a crust over him. It’s sad. It’s sad for him that he’s an asshole. And it’s sad that he doesn’t know if. The crust that started to form long before we meet him, and has been getting harder through the years of life’s inevitable trials. A big crust was formed when his former partner committed suicide, a year or two prior to the start of the film. That incident if crucial (in the middle of the film when Llewyn is offered a shot a joining a group that a big promoter is forming — a group based on Peter, Paul & Mary, Llewyn rejects the offer firmly, “NO! No double act!” Even if it’s a trio. For what it is worth, all of that makes him a sympathetic character to me.

I don’t want to talk about it any more, but to me this movie is a classic narrative of a classic sisyphean hero. This is beautifully and elegantly revealed in only the very last scene when the Coen unveil the true and previously hidden structure of this particular narrative. And of course, by the last words, Llewyn, that common French phrase that means something different in it’s literal translation, and which John Collier used for something of a similar effect as the concluding two words of one of his most famous stories, “The Chaser.”

As a side note, the movie has a beautiful imagery. Great dark humor. Really lovely songs, and great quirky performances. It maybe has symbolism. I have the sense that the Coen’s but stuff in their movies that even they don’t understand. Stuff that just feels like it ought to be there, or maybe just seems like its worth a gamble. In a young artist this kind of thing can often be a mistake (not that young artists should be afraid of making mistakes). But in a couple middle-aged guys like the Coen’s its damn good. An effort to understand like begins with incompetence and enthusiasm in youth, moves to control and confidence in adulthood, and then, for the the very awake and the very lucky into a middle or late age of “well, who the fuck knows?”

13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers

USA TODAY: 13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers.

Here’s how I know raising the minimum raise won’t damage the economy. Look at the map on at the link above and you will see that the minimum wage in Wyoming is $5.15. Obviously MacDonald’s and WalMart want the keep their margins high, that is a universal goal of business. What if they were forced to increase their wages there by, say, a wopping 80%. What a huge burden that would be. Obviously they would have to cut jobs, close locations, why that would be almost $9.30 an hour!

Oh, wait. Look over at Washington. Minimum wage is $9.32 an hour? Clearly there must not be any fastfood or bigbox stores in Washington, how could they survive paying 80% more there than the Wyoming rate.

By the way, the minimum wage in Australia is $15 an hour. She there must not be any fast food restaurants of box stores there either.

Rage wages up to a level that people working full time are no longer eligible for government assistance like food stamps and we will all benefit. Wages paid go right into the local economy for goods and services, unlike excess corporate profits that get invested overseas, or as Apple does with its cash reserves, just stockpiled in banks.

Also here’s a funny joke from Chris Rock: “You know what it says when your job pays you minimum wage, don’t you. It says ‘We’d pay you less if we could, but it’s illegal.'”

The truth about getting customer service help via email.

Here’s part of post I did on Facebook that some people might find useful. Ever get frustrated trying to deal with a company’s email complain system? Here’s a general email of how they work. There’s less need to get frustrated if you know the game they are playing (and why — which is because they don’t want to hire enough people to do the job decently), it takes patience but you almost always get your way. Not kidding about that.

SInce I did this kind of work for months, I know what a bullshit system it is, some I’m prepared. You will never get an answer on the first try. They will send a generic response to answers common questions. That will be useless, because you are a smart person who has tried all that obvious stuff yourself. So you write back. It always helps to be polite, but really, at this stage it doesn’t matter if you are rude or not, because there’s a high likelihood your second email will be answer by an algorithm too. Even if not, the person reading your rate will just paste in the apology scripting and then follow that with the scripting most likely to fit your actual issue. They don’t have time to get upset or sabotage you because they will have a quota that’s impossible to manage by doing anything more than very cursorily skimming for the real issue.

(They started me with a quota of 100 emails a day, when I met that they raised it. And they raised it again. I met that. And again. The only way to get faster is to start taking shortcuts, like for instance, don’t bother trying to access your analytical skills, or really any higher brain functions. Cut and paste, just cut and paste. They would glare at you when you went to take a piss because you’re not going to answer very many emails standing at a urinal, are you? And I met that goal and they raised it again. To 350 email responses in a 7.5 hour shift. (Now, let it be known, that in the two years I worked as a temp for them, both as a phone rep then an email rep, I never received one single raise. I was never offered permanent employment or benefits. I never got a paid holiday. I never got a paid sick day, until Seattle made that illegal. When my new goal of 350 was assigned, I went in and gave her my notice. Enough is enough.).

Anyway, back to the help-y part So this 2nd response will also be useless, most likely, but your next email will likely get answered by a higher-tiered person, who is allowed more flexibility. You keep going up the chain until you get a clear answer, or they give in just to get rid of your. Or until some vice president gets sick of you and bans you from the site, but that only happened once in two years at the place I worked. The thing is, usually unless there is a legal issue, must company guidelines are fake. Only the underlings are required to try and stick to them. Some supervisors, most Directors, and almost all Vice-President can do what ever the fuck they want with the guidelines. Most of the time they just want to get rid of you, and have you not trash them online or to the BBB. All online businesses use email filtering systems like this, because they believe it is cost effective.

Dirty Wars (2013)

Dirty Wars, Documentary.

Depress yourself. Lays out the evidence of the Obama administration’s nixonian covert drone bombings and raids, undeclared wars in most every Muslim country. It may have started under Bush, just as the Indochina adventures of forty-plus years ago began with Democratic administrations and then carried over to Republican ones.

Maybe you don’t need to see it. We all know about these missions, anybody who wants to know knows, anyway. And we all know, because of our common sense and our empathy tells us this breeds new enemies, you can’t kill you’re way out of people hating you.

As the journalist observes in the movie: “The first kill list (the card pack” has fifty-five names on it. Then next kill list has 200. Then 3000.” We know this, but our knowledge does nothing. The truth does nothing. The nightmare feeds itself on itself and still grows stronger.

Dirty Wars Movie Poster

The Ray Bradbury MFA, Day 5


“Of Unity in Religion” and “Of Revenge” The Essays of Francis Bacon. Based on the few I’ve read so far, Bacon has strong desire to state them obvious. Or maybe what he states wasn’t so obvious then, though I doubt it. In either case, it’s difficult for me to see how anyone could have ever convinced themselves that Bacon was also Shakespeare–unless they took the view that Francis saved the quirkiest bits of his worldview for the stage.


“Heartstrong” by Rachel Swirsky, Through the Drowsy Dark.  Taking a common, yet colorful, metaphor at treating it literally has resulted in many bad stories. One has to have Swirsky’s nearly perfect eye for detail, and her will to completely commit to emotional truths, to pull it off.


“a boy and his dog”, Charles Bukowski, Pleasures of the Damned. A character portrait of one of Bukowski’s neighbors, and not so much about the neighbor’s dog.

In a 2001 talk Ray Bradbury offered a way to fill up one’s head “a thousand nights” of reading: one poem, one essay, on story before bedtime. I’m giving it a shot at least for awhile (although not at bedtime), and when I think of anything to say about any particular day’s lessons, I’ll post about it. Read all posts in the series here.

The Ray Bradbury MFA, Day Four


“Of Death” The Essays of Francis Bacon. Try not to sweat it too much, and anyway, odds are you’ll hardly feel it.


“Our Daughter is in Heaven” by Elaine Menge is the lead story in 13 Tales of New American Gothic, an awkwardly titled anthology from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. A couple moves from New Orleans to a vividly-described suburban cul-de-sac in the Dallas-Fort Worth “area”, (quote: “Area. They no longer lived in a real town, or a city”) called Brigadoon, a tract of excessive, “mish-mash” mcmansions.


“The Hourglass”, Jorge Luis Borges, trans. Alastair Reid, reprinted in Selected Poems . Borges concerns himself with very few themes, mostly fundamental ones: time, space.

In a 2001 talk Ray Bradbury offered a way to fill up one’s head “a thousand nights” of reading: one poem, one essay, on story before bedtime. I’m giving it a shot at least for awhile (although not at bedtime), and when I think of anything to say about any particular day’s lessons, I’ll post about it. Read all posts in the series here.

The Ray Bradbury MFA, Day Three


“Of Liars” The Essays of Montaigne vol. 2 Like many bloggers, the original blogger can be strident, and hard on people, especially himself.


“Dance Girl” by Ed Gorman. A somber, tragic tales closes out the collection.


“The Pleasures of a King”, Charles Bukowski. On one of his common themes: the joy of not have a job to go to.

In a 2001 talk Ray Bradbury offered a way to fill up one’s head “a thousand nights” of reading: one poem, one essay, on story before bedtime.  I’m giving it a shot at least for awhile (although not at bedtime), and when I think of anything to say about any particular day’s lessons, I’ll post about it. Read all posts in the series here.